Outstanding orcas

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This week at Mawson: 1 March 2013

On Saturday 23rd February there was a bit of excitement in the red shed as we could see a few killer whales in the bay near East arm. They looked like they were chasing penguins around. We then saw some more killer whales in Horseshoe harbour. Some of the guys grabbed their cameras and headed over to East arm while I decided to head over to West arm.

When I got to the highest point of West arm I could see about six orcas a long way out but I was happy I could get some nice shots of penguins with the whales off in the distance behind them using my telephoto lens. After an hour or so the whales started getting closer and closer. By this time Peter had arrived and we both followed the pod of whales around to the point of West arm where by this time they were only a few metres off the rocks. We were taking so many spectacular photos we both had sore trigger fingers.

By this time Geoff had joined us then we noticed the pod of whales had a young Weddell seal with them. The whole time they had been playing with the seal like a cat does with a mouse and the poor seal was completely exhausted and close to death. We could see teeth marks in his flippers and he was swollen and battered. They would drag him down and hold him under and blow bubbles at him. It was an amazing display and we all started to yell and encourage the seal to swim to shore and climb up the rocks before he got eaten. All the whales were lined up in a row watching him and he was so tired and weak and every time he would climb up the rocks a wave would come and wash him back off to the waiting orcas. After several attempts to escape and climb the rocks, the exhausted seal turned and swam to the whales and had a five minute stare off. It was like he was saying to them “please finish me off”.

Strangely the whales didn’t take him and the seal turned and managed to climb up the rocks just past the tide line and collapsed in a heap. It looked like his flippers were broken and the poor little seal was completely exhausted. It was if the whales had brought the seal to us as a gift, like a cat does with a mouse. It was amazing and all the whales just stayed there lifting their heads out of the water to look at us. They kept doing this for at least another 30 minutes till they started losing interest and started swimming back and forth past the seal and eventually they swam off. It was the most amazing and intense nature experience I have ever witnessed.

After dinner Cookie, Luc and I went for a walk out on West arm to see if the little seal was OK, but he was gone. My guess is he went to sleep and never woke up and the high tide washed him away. (Or maybe the orcas came back and took him?) Life can be so cruel but it was such an honour to witness such an amazing event as a spectator and not to intervene even though we wanted to help that poor little seal. Orcas are the biggest dolphins and the most intelligent animal in the ocean. We think they were all young female orcas we saw and this display was probably a feeding lesson and also a game to keep the cohesion of the pod.

Craig with Orcas
Craig taking one of the more than 800 photos he took of…
(Photo: Peter Layt)
Adelies and Orcas
Mum said don't swim too soon after lunch, they're after lunch
(Photo: Craig Hayhow)
Seal caught by orca
(Photo: Craig Hayhow)
Seal and Orcas
The stand off
(Photo: Craig Hayhow)
Geoff and Pete with orcas
Geoff and Pete are amazed by the show
(Photo: Craig Hayhow)
Seal chased on rocks by orcas
Out of the water but not safe.
(Photo: Craig hayhow)
Seal chased by orcas
Not happy
(Photo: Craig Hayhow)
Orca posing for the papparazzi
(Photo: Craig Hayhow)
Orca up close with its head out of the water
More posing
(Photo: Craig Hayhow)
Jellyfish at Mawson
A bonus photo on the way back to the red shed. Jellyfish…
(Photo: Craig Hayhow)
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